America’s 'Grand Delusion' in the Middle East

America’s 'Grand Delusion' in the Middle East

Robert E Wilhelm Fellow Steven Simon publishes a book based on decades of policy and scholarship. "Grand Delusion" provides a comprehensive look at US engagement in the Middle East over the past forty years.


April 25, 2023 | Center for International Studies
News Release
April 25, 2023
Center for International Studies

The culmination of almost forty years at the highest levels of policymaking and scholarship, “Grand Delusion” is Steven Simon’s tour de force, offering a comprehensive and deeply informed account of US engagement in the Middle East. The book, “Grand Delusion: The Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East,” was published by Penguin Random House Press on April 11, 2023. He will be exploring the themes of his book at a MIT Starr Forum on April 26, 2023.

Simon begins with the Reagan administration, when American perception of the Middle East shifted from a cluster of faraway and frequently skirmishing nations to a shining, urgent opportunity for America to (in Reagan’s words) “serve the cause of world peace and the future of mankind.”

Reagan fired the starting gun on decades of deepening American involvement, but as the global economy grew, bringing an increasing reliance on oil, US diplomatic and military energies were ever more fatefully absorbed by the Middle East until the Obama administration and its successors finally sought to disentangle America from the region. Grand Delusion explores the motivations, strategies, and shortcomings of each presidential administration from Reagan to today, exposing a web of intertwined events—from Lebanese civil conflict to shifting Iranian domestic politics, Cold War rivalries, and Saudi Arabia’s quest for security to 9/11 and the war on terror—managed by a Washington policy process frequently ruled by wishful thinking and partisan politics.

Simon’s sharp sense of irony and incisive writing bring a complex history to life. He questions the motives behind America’s commitment to Israel; explodes the popular narrative of Desert Storm as a “good war”; and calls out the devastating consequences of our mistakes, particularly for people of the region trapped by the onslaught of American military action and pitiless economic sanctions.

“Grand Delusion” reveals that this story, while episodically impressive, was too often tragic and at times dishonorable. As we enter a new era in foreign policy, this is an essential book, a cautionary history that illuminates American’s propensity for self-deception and misadventure at a moment when the nation is redefining its engagement with a world in crisis.



Steven Simon is currently the Robert E Wilhelm Fellow at the Center for International Studies. He served on the National Security Council staff as senior director for Middle Eastern and North African affairs from 2011 to 2012. He also worked on the NSC staff from 1994 to 1999 on counterterrorism and Middle East security policy. These assignments followed a fifteen-year career at the U.S. Department of State. Between government assignments, he was Hasib Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, analyst at the RAND Corporation, and deputy director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies; he is a Senior Analyst at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He is the co-author, among other books, of The Age of Sacred Terror, winner of the Arthur C. Ross Award for best book in international relations.

The Center for International Studies (CIS) supports interna­tional research and education at MIT. It is the home of MIT’s Security Studies Program; the MIT International Science & Technology Initiative, its pioneering global education program; the Program on Emerging Technologies; and seminars and research on migration, South Asia politics, the Middle East, cybersecurity, nuclear weapons, and East Asia. The Center has traditionally been aligned with the social sciences while also working with MIT’s premier science and engineering scholars. CIS produces research that creatively addresses global issues while helping to educate the next generation of global citizens.